UAAP Season 81 ended in heartbreak for the Green Booters as the chance for DLSU’s first men’s football title in over two decades was snatched from their grasp by the ADMU Blue Eagles. A Finals showdown against their bitter rivals seemed like the perfect way to end the championship drought, but it was not to be.
The stage was set for Lasallians to be crowned champions when then-rookie Mohammad Almohjili broke the deadlock in the 77th minute and put his side in pole position. With the defense of the Green-and-White looking commanding the entire time, and with the match in its dying embers, there was little doubt that the Booters were the favorites to take the trophy home. But it was in the 90th minute, with the game on the line, that Ateneo starman Jarvey Gayoso pulled his side level.
The match went to extra time, and the Blue-and-White got the last laugh as then-captain Julian Roxas rose to meet the ball and scored the winning goal in his swan song.
But the Season 81 squad of DLSU was young—a team full of passion and youth that now looks to add poise and maturity this season. Just minutes away from claiming last year’s crown, the Green Booters have proven to their competition, and more importantly to themselves as well, that they are a force to be reckoned with.
The coming of age
Last season’s squad was filled with talented rookies, yet for all the skills they possessed, the previous season also carried signs of growing pains all over it. Inconsistent in the round-robin phase, the Green-and-White evolved in the playoff stages. Emerging triumphant in a semi-final in which they were considered heavy underdogs, and coming moments away from winning it all, the Taft-based squad’s growth was evident and staggering. But for all this growth, a sense of poise was ultimately still lacking when the pressure was at its highest.
With last season being the first Finals appearance for the Green Booters in three years, team captain Jed Diamante explains, “It’s a different story when you get [to the Final], so I think that is what we lacked—the experience with higher pressure…[But last season’s Final] gave us hope [for the coming years].”
Refusing to let the heartbreak from that Finals consume them, the squad looks hungrier for victory and is filled with more confidence. “Being in the championship [match] after a long period, and knowing that the majority of the players were in their rookie years, hopefully they gained much experience from this kind of high-level [competition],” shares head coach Alvin Ocampo.
Stepping into the spotlight
Subsequent to the Finals, former DLSU star Shanden Vergara left the University as footballing opportunities abroad poured in. Despite being a rookie, Vergara was a major cog in the team last season, scoring the winning goal in the semi-final and claiming the UAAP Rookie of the Year title, among a plethora of achievements in his first year for the Booters. This meant that his departure left quite a void in the team.
Losing a promising young striker is a tough pill to swallow after seeing the squad’s potential with him in it, but just like any other setback, the Green-and-White are taking it in stride. Diamante was coy, but he reassures, “[Vergara] was one of the most critical players in our team last year. However, there are some players who just came in—who may not [exactly] replace him—but [who] bring something new for the team. There are also some current players who are stepping up, who I believe can make an impact.”
Indeed, the end of one good thing could yet prove to be the start of something even better. The squad has been restocked with new rookies who are said to have immense potential. When pressed on the topic, Diamante can only disclose that, “We have a lot of rookies to watch out for; I just don’t want to mention [specific names] right now, syempre so the other teams won’t know. We will just release the new guns in the games.”
Adopt and adapt
As of press time, the Green Booters are in third place in the Ang Liga preseason tournament. Although their rank may be lower than last year’s championship run, the squad continues to carry high hopes that everything will fall into place.
Meanwhile, Ocampo acknowledges that, “there [are] still a lot of challenges this year,” citing how the team’s training venue had been moved due to the recent Taal Volcano eruption.
The Laguna campus—where the team has been training for the past year—was among the areas affected by ash fall, posing safety hazards to people on-site. Consequently, the team had little option but to train in Manila again, just months after their initial move to Laguna. Despite the unforeseen environmental factors, the Green-and-White remain motivated to push through these circumstances and meet the same goal of winning the championship.
Diamante believes that the team will still be in top form come game day, explaining that the players are well-aware of the need to hurdle past such issues in order to continue moving forward. “[We] are athletes; we have to learn how to adjust, learn how to adapt…As much as possible, we are trying to deal with [these concerns] and adjust [to] them within our capacity,” he highlights.
The captain further relays how he helps keep everyone on track, “I am always assuring the [team] that the [Office of Sports Development and] the school [are] doing something for the betterment of the athletes.”
The Season 82 squad has a different air around them—a sense of belief filling the pitch. With a year of experience for many rookies under their belt, and starlets ready to become bonafide stars, there is no longer a lack of poise. Having experienced the biggest moments, the team from Taft feels confident and ready to win-out when it matters.
Not leaving it all to fate, the players are reminded by Diamante that they need to correct the faults to give themselves a shot at bringing home the coveted championship. “Every year, our mindset is we have to do better than we did last year, so ‘yun ‘yung main motivation namin ngayon,” he expresses that the Green-and-White will continually strive to earn their redemption.
The loss to Ateneo may have taken a toll on them, but the Lasallians are motivated to turn this hurtful ending into a driving force to start and finish the upcoming tournament the right way. Confident and revitalized, they have proven capable of reaching the greatest heights—the question now is whether the Green Booters have what it takes to pull through.